Great women have been breaking conventions and writing history for centuries
This International Women’s Day, we are delighted to celebrate the legacy of iconic women who helped shape modern society through pioneering work across sciences, the arts, commerce and politics. Some are more well known than others and many more remain hidden from our history books. From life-saving to ground-breaking, the women we are featuring are emblematic of the important contribution women make to the world.
There are so many trailblazing women writing history every day. Using the hashtag #SheWritesHistory, we’re encouraging you to join in celebrating women that are making tomorrow’s history today.
Disruptors, big thinkers and innovators who shape the modern world.
Emmeline Pankhurst was a political activist and started the suffragette movement, thereby changing the destiny of women’s rights by winning the right to vote. Emmeline adopted hard line tactics to ensure that her campaign for increased rights for women could not be ignored, she was arrested several times in her life and undertook hunger strikes. Howevere Emmeline was still committed to servicing her country and when World War I broke out she called an end to militancy and demonstrations and encouraged women to join the war effort. Emmeline said: “we are here not to be law-breakers but to be law-makers”. Only a month after her death, in 1928, women were finally given full voting rights by Parliament.
Not only writing history, Zaha Hadid has changed modern cityscapes. Known as the ‘Queen of the Curve’, Zaha has left an indelible mark on modern design in the 21st Century. A modern pioneer, Zaha redefined what could be accomplished in concrete, steel and glass. She was the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004. She received the UK's most prestigious architectural award, the Stirling Prize, in 2010 and 2011. In 2012, she was made a Dame by Elizabeth II for services to architecture, and in February 2016, the month preceding her death, she became the first and only woman to be awarded the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects.
Iranian born and living in Britain since 1973, Zaha wanted to be recognised for the quality of her work but she also acknowledged that her notoriety could help others break the glass ceiling. Deyan Sudjic of The Guardian described Hadid as "an architect who first imagined, then proved, that space could work in radical new ways ... Throughout her career, she was a dedicated teacher, enthused by the energy of the young. She was not keen to be characterised as a woman architect, or an Arab architect. She was simply an architect."
Mary Sommerville was a Scottish polymath and talented science writer. She studied mathematics and astronomy and was influential in promoting the education and emancipation of women. At a time when women's participation in science was discouraged, she moved in intellectual circles with some of the most eminent scientific and literary figures in British and European society. Somerville College at the University of Oxford is named after her, and both a main-belt asteroid, and a crater on the moon have been named in her honour.
Mary was a trailblazer for women in science and left an indelible mark on academia. In 1835, she was nominated to be jointly the first female member of the Royal Astronomical Society, and in 1872 her obituary in The Morning Post declared that "Whatever difficulty we might experience in the middle of the nineteenth century in choosing a king of science, there could be no question whatever as to the queen of science".